When I was about 15 or 16, I read Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. The book is a history of the Soviet concentration camp system between 1918 and 1956, based on the testimony of actual prison inmates, of which Solzhenitsyn was one—and it had a profound effect on me, both politically and as a future writer.
But most of all, it taught me something crucial: What is legal is not necessarily the same as what is just.
Because you see, the Gulag system of forced-labor and concentration camps was completely legal: Proper laws had been properly passed, which allowed innocent people to be shipped off to their doom in a properly legal process. Even before the Nazis came up with the Wannsee Protocol, Lenin and his Soviets had perfected the idea of using the law to rape justice and the rights of human beings.
We today look at such abuses of the law as perversions typical of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes—
—but what about in a democracy? What about in our democracy? What about in America?
Recently, the United States’ Congress duly and democratically passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Obama duly and democratically signed into law.
The NDAA makes it legal for the executive branch to unilaterally declare anyone, including an American citizen, a terrorist suspect. And on merely the strength of this suspicion—not an act, not even a plan, but merely on a suspicion—an accused person can be “detained” indefinitely.
So imagine this: Imagine you are walking down the street one Saturday morning, having gone to your neighborhood Kwik Stop to buy the paper and a Slim Jim.
You’re walking along the shoulder of a local road, munching on your beef jerky and thinking that the economy is in a helluva mess, the wife wants you to cut the grass this weekend (and you don’t really feel like it, because you want to go hunting in the woods with your buddies)—
—all of a sudden, a big black shiny Chevy Suburban with blacked-out windows screeches to a halt right in front of you—
—a couple of Black Guards—complete with black helmets and black visors—leap out of the Suburban—carrying submachine guns—
—they simultaneously zap you with a taser.
You fall to the ground, shaking and jittering like an epileptic, pissing your pants and biting your own tongue—and as helpless as a baby.
Meanwhile, another vehicle—a blacked-out minivan—screeches to a halt: The sliding doors open, and two men, also dressed head-to-toe in black, except for the blue Latex surgical gloves they are both wearing, jump out, roll you over like a hunk of beef, bind your wrists together with plastic electrical bands, pop a hood over your head, then toss you into the minivan—
—all in under thirty seconds. Once the black Suburban and the black minivan scream away, there is nothing left except a half-eaten Slim Jim lying on the side of the road.
When you wake up, you’re in a windowless room, with no light, and you can hardly breath, because of the black hood still over your head. You can’t take it off—in fact, you can’t move, because your hands are tied behind your back, and your ankles are bound as well.
You call out: “Hey!”
You call out again: “He-e-e-e-ey!!!”
Minutes? Seconds? Hours? Days? Time quickly gets away from you—you can’t tell if it’s day or night, if seconds are hours or days are minutes.
Then they come to interrogate you—with no warning: They burst into your cell, cut the binding from your ankles—but not the one tying your wrists behind your back—grab you roughly, throw you to the ground, pick you up again, drag you on your knees, throw you out of the cell, then pick you up onto your feet and pull you—lurching—down a corridor—but you don’t really know, ‘cause you still have the black hood on: You are blind throughout all of this.
They yell. They let you stumble and fall to the ground three-four times, then roughly pick you up each time, only to let you fall and get banged up a little bit more. All done to disorient you—to make you panic.
Since you can’t see, you have no idea where they’re taking you—but you keep saying, “What’d I do? I didn’t do anything! What’s going on?”
And they keep taunting you: “You know what you did, you know—and you’re gonna pay! You think we let scumbags like you get off so easy? You’re gonna pay!”
Finally, they plop you in a chair and yank the black hood off your head—
—blinding white light slices your brain—a spotlight is aimed straight at your face—your interrogators slap you (to disorient you), and keep yelling at you “Look at me! Look at me!”, to make you open your eyes—to make the light hurt.
A barrage of questions—they yell out questions at you—but when you try to answer, they ask another—they sneer at you—they never let you get your bearings, even as they insist that they “know everything”.
“I didn’t do anything! I didn’t do anything! Let’s talk this over and straighten this out—I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding!” you insist—feeling bitterly ashamed at how quickly you’ve been cowed, humiliated that you’re not as tough as you thought you were—
—but you genuinely have no idea what’s going on.
And besides: You’re scared. Which is what they want.
After you assure them over and over and over again that you’ll tell them whatever they want to know, they get softer on you: They want to “make it easy on you”, they claim.
“Just tell us the names of your terrorist buddies,” they ask finally.
“Huh?” you say, literally dumbfounded.
You buddies are your hunting buddies, of course. There’s Mitch, the regional sales rep for John Deere; Kelly, the office manager at the local insurance company; Davey, the airline cargo manager who’s “between jobs” now for eight months, ever since he got laid off and can’t find another job, because they’re just not hiring people over 45; and then there’s you—that’s all: Four middle-class middle-aged guys.
What do you and your hunting buddies do every other weekend? Not a helluva lot of hunting, that’s for sure: Not a one of you is a very good shot. Those ducks have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than being bagged by you guys.
But hey: You have a lot of fun. Mostly, you go out in the woods, squat in the duck blind, drink a few beers and bitch—the God-given right of every middle-class American male.
You bitch about the wife, the economy, Obama, the boss, and throw in a mention of some hot young thing on “Dancing With The Stars”, which you pretend to your buddies you are forced to watch by the wife (but which you secretly look forward to every week, and watch even when the wife isn’t around).
The ducks never fear you guys: They’re wise to you in your duck blind, what with you yapping away and laughing ever-louder with every beer you put away.
Finally, closing in on lunchtime, you get out of the stupid blind and break open the cooler with the packed lunch. More beers, good food, better company—you and your buddies, hanging out with your useless shotguns, until finally the sun starts to go down, and it’s time to go back home.
That’s all you and your buddies do, every other weekend—
—but when you tell that to your interrogators, they don’t believe you.
“Don’t lie, you scumbag! Don’t lie, you terrorist fuck! We know what you guys are planning! We know that you’re a terrorist cell!”
“But we’re not!”, you insist. “We’re not!”
They don’t believe you.
So they pop the black hood back over your head, pick you up and shove you along, then drag you back to your cell.
And then later (days? hours? minutes? years?) they yank you out of your cell, and interrogate you again—
—only this time, they strap you on your back to a gourney, then yank off the black hood from your head: You open your eyes to a bright light burning right into your face—you can hardly see.
Before you can get the words out, they slap a warm wet hand-towel—the kind you see rolled up by the sink in every motel room—they slap it over your mouth and nose, the towel heavy from the water—
—you gag—you hiccough—the most painful hiccough ever—you think you’re having a heart attack as you feel the water of the warm wet cloth going up your nose—into your lungs—your whole chest suddenly heaving as the water triggers reflexes you didn’t even know existed—
“Holy-fucking-shit I’m DROWNING!!!!” you want to scream—
—but you can’t—you can’t: The hand holding the warm wet towel over your mouth and nose is implacable—that hand wants you to drown, it wants you to flop like a fish, it wants you to feel your entire chest spasming from the indescribable pain, the pain of drowning—I’m drowning—I’m fucking DROWNING!!!—
Congratulations—you busted your cherry: You’ve just been water-boarded. This’ll go on for minutes? hours? seconds? days? years?—you don’t know.
But what you do know is, this’ll be the first of many, many, many “sessions”. And in each and every one of these “enhanced interrogation sessions”, they’ll ask you questions.
And you’ll answer them—answer them fully. You’ll tell them everything—even stuff you swore you’d never tell a soul—like how you cheated on your SAT’s—how you skimmed a little off that load of gravel back in 1998, and sold it for a couple of hundred—how you fooled around with (but never slept with) Janey Crouse after she split from Herb but before she moved away in 2005—
—you’ll tell them everything.
But still, they won’t be satisfied: “You’re holding out on us—we know you’re holding out on us! What is your terror cell going to do? What target are you planning to strike? I want names, addresses, schedules—everything!”
Once you’ve run out of true stuff to tell them, that’s when you’ll start to make stuff up—just to get them to please-please stop—
—and that’s what they want: See, they have to justify this whole operation. If you’re an innocent schlub, then they look bad. But if they keep on pushing you until you “confess”—even if your “confession” is obviously crazy—then the interrogators can say to their bosses, “See? The guy really was a terrorist!”
But even when you tell them that you’re planning to blow up the Post Office—which you’ve never planned to, but tell them just to make it stop!—they still won’t be satisfied: They’ll keep torturing you, just so they can prove to their bosses that they are being “diligent and conscientious in our terrorist-fighting efforts”.
‘Cause after all, you are now a terrorist: You confessed to being terrorist.
After weeks? days? hours? years? of this treatment—this horror—one day or night (‘cause you’ll never be sure of the time), you’ll be sitting in your cell, weeping, and wondering how this could possibly have happened in America—how did this happen here—
—I’m here to tell you: It was you own fucking fault.
You are the one to blame for this, when it comes to pass, and you’re sitting in some cell, with no recourse to an attorney, to a judge, to any sort of redress—much less freedom.
It was your fault that you were grabbed, thrown into the back of the black minivan, dragged, beaten, tortured, imprisoned.
Your fault that you wound up confessing to something you never planned to do, but which they use to throw you in a dungeon indefinitely, as “preventive detention” in order to “stop the terrorists”.
Why is it your fault?
Because you know exactly what is in the National Defense Authorization Act: All the tools necessary to turn the United States into a totalitarian police-state are in that law which Congress passed and Obama signed.
All the laws to make America into Lenin’s Gulag archipelago.
All the laws necessary to make it possible to throw you in a dungeon forever, as a “suspected terrorist”.
All the laws necessary to strip away your rights, your freedoms—your very life.
All the laws necessary are in the National Defense Authorization Act.
And what did you do? Did you do anything to stop it? Did you write your Congressman? Did you protest? Did you demonstrate?
We in a democratic society have an obligation—each and every one of us—to use whatever ability or talent or opportunity we have to make a better society.
Me? I’m a writer—this piece you’ve just read is the best thing I can do: Describe to you what the Amerikan Police-State will be like—and what will happen to you because of the NDAA—and thereby help prevent it.
You who read this: It is up to you—and you alone—to stand up, and say—
“No!” to indefinite detentions.
“No!” to arrests and imprisonment without due process.
“No!” to using terrorism as the excuse to violate Constitutional guarantees.
“No!” to pointless wars of aggression that hurt America, but benefit foreign countries at the expense of American lives and treasure.
“No!” to crony capitalism which seeks to enrich the one-percenters at the expense of all of us.
“No!” to the evil that is being carried out in the name of safety and security.
“No!” to evil laws that are unjust and immoral—but which have been bought from Congress by lobbyists, and paid for by vampiric corporations.
America is a democracy—but it is rapidly becoming the nightmare state that Solzhenitsyn described. This nightmare will only end when we stand up—when we make it stop.
How do we make it stop? When we stand up, and we all say:
“This is wrong: It might be legal—it might be a law properly passed and signed—but it is not the will of the people—it is wrong—and it must end.”
We can do this. It’s easy: All we have to do is stand up, go to a public square, and say it out loud.
Say it out loud now—while we still can.
This is me, saying it out loud: Join me.